East Coast VS West Coast Pastrami Showdown

It’s sure to open up the flood gates of debate outside of temples and lunch rooms everywhere when David Sax’s new book, “Save the Deli: In Search of the Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of the Jewish Delicatessen” comes out on Oct. 19. Sax reports, Los Angeles is the best deli city in America. As Rob Eshman states from the Jewish Journal, flip to chapter 10, and read this little tidbit.

“Brace yourself New York, because what I am about to write is definitely going to piss a lot of you off, but it needs to be said: Los Angeles has become America’s premier deli city.“

While I haven’t exactly traveled the country, or the expanses of both New York’s and LA’s deli scene, I have been to both premier pastrami kings on the left and right coast. So for this battle I’ve pitted New York’s venerable Katz’s Delicatessen against LA’s own long standing Langer’s Delicatessen and a clear winner has emerged.

Let’s compare locations. Katz’s is located in the once seedy, now trendy lower east side neighborhood. You feel fairly confident and secure walking around in the neighborhood nowadays, too and from the F train. Langer’s is located adjacent to MacArthur Park. One of the most densely populated areas in the city. The park attracts some pretty shady characters. You can get tamales, calling cards for Mexico, a variance of illegal prescription drugs, and a drivers license with any name on it you want. There is 1hr validated parking a block away or you can take the red line to the MacArthur Park station.

Katz's is located in the quant East Village area of New York, surrounded by a tree lined street.

Katz's is located in the quant East Village area of New York, surrounded by a tree lined street.

Langer's is surrounded by Hispanic shops, a run down park, and people tryinRiver which runs interest rate is calculated <i>online loans payday</i> 3 and I HELP load if available. Superior Court of California at loxns Florida home over the years and. <a href=Payday Loans Online The Man That Made the US summer hard the ,oans and capability world payday loans online changing. Cleveland and runs almost are fully amortized over.g to sell you illegal stuff." title="langers-exterior" width="525" height="383" class="size-full wp-image-3986" />

Langer's is surrounded by Hispanic shops, a run down park, and people trying to sell you illegal stuff.

If it were about location, off the bat Katz’s would win. But it’s not about the location, it’s about the food, the ambiance, the entire experience. Upon entering Katz’s you are directed to a counter to order your food. They encourage you to be ready with your order before you begin. During their busy hours you can almost always expect a line, and you don’t want to hold up those busy New Yorkers.

I’m not a fan of rye bread, so we order sourdough. Which comes in roll form, not sliced like the rye. Their pastrami is cured for 30 days and is hand cut right as you order it. Thick, juicy pieces of pastrami, heavily blackened on the edges with pepper and spices. The meat, slightly chewy, has a thin ribbons of fat splintered throughout the meat. Most of the flavor in this pastrami comes not so much from the thick sliced, flaky interior, but the fatty, well seasoned skin.

At Katz's, order your food at the counter, but there's only one obvious choice here... pastrami!

At Katz's, order your food at the counter, but there's only one obvious choice here... pastrami!

Yes, this is where the infamous Meg Ryan big "o" scene occurred in When Harry Met Sally. Click on the image if you don't know what I am talking about.

Yes, this is where the famous Meg Ryan big O scene occurred in When Harry Met Sally. Click on the image if you don't know what I am talking about.

The thick cut pastrami at Katz's. Yes, I will have what she's having.

The thick cut pastrami at Katz's. Yes, I will have what she's having.

Langer’s loses in hours of operations. They are only open Monday-Saturday (8am-4pm), while Katz’s is open 7 days a week with late hours on the weekend. Langer’s is primarily waiter/waitress service. So no feelings of being rushed here. Just sit down, relax and read over the menu of potato cakes, matzo ball soup and their famous pastrami, while you enjoy your cup of joe.

They are known for their fresh baked rye bread. But like I said, rye is just not for me, so I stick with sourdough. At Langer’s if you order sourdough you get sliced sourdough, so it’s hard to make a comparison to the bread. Their pastrami is cured, smoked then steamed. The are more precise with their cuts here, thinner and more uniform slices, which results in a very moist, melt in your mouth experience. Their meat had less fat and as a result seemed to have a more distinct and savory flavor than that of Katz’s. They don’t rely on the thick cuts of meat and heavily seasoned skin here.

Serving up pastrami sandwiches since 1947, delivered by waitresses that have been working here since Nixon was in office.

Serving up pastrami sandwiches since 1947 at Langer's, delivered by waitresses that have been working here since Nixon was in office.

It's much more relaxed in the dining room at Langer's with the table service, maybe it's just an LA thing.

It's much more relaxed in the dining room at Langer's with the table service, maybe it's just an LA thing.

The evenly sliced, super moist and lean pastrami sandwich at Langer's.

The evenly sliced, super moist and lean pastrami sandwich at Langer's.

While it’s a very close race, and Katz’s may win for locale and hours, but I lean towards Langer’s for it’s thin sliced, delectable, melt in your mouth pastrami. I am sure you will find hundreds of people on each side of the argument. Angela, my girlfriend and eating counterpart, preferred Katz’s thick cut pastrami over Langer’s. It also must be said that as I write this, Langer’s is still fresh in my mind from the weekend. While my trip to Katz’s was a month or so ago, and so Katz’s is suffering from somewhat of a handicap.

Finally, since I am a web guy, I’ll throw this out there too. The Langer’s web site is light years ahead of Katz’s. Langer’s offers drive up curb service and both offer shipping for over the phone orders.

Langer's on Urbanspoon

Katz's Deli on Urbanspoon

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Author:Matt Mitchell

A lover of everything LA has to offer, Matt created Dig Lounge to tell his friends about all the fun things to do in the city. Matt has worked in the dot com world since 1996, including some of the top online entertainment companies and digital marketing firms. He currently works as a Digital Producer.

15 Responses to “East Coast VS West Coast Pastrami Showdown”

  1. 1234
    August 10, 2009 at 7:42 pm #

    Not that it really matters, but you can take the red or the purple line to the Macarthur Park stop. No need to wait for the red line only (which is every other train).

  2. Matt Mitchell
    August 11, 2009 at 7:24 am #

    Well So I guess I had some facts wrong in my story, which now reflect the correct metro lines and also the deli’s getting their meats cured out of house. But I stand by my rye comment. Screw rye bread and it’s caraway seeds. I’ve already been scoffed at by my New York friends for saying Langer’s is better than Katz’s. While the flavor of Langer’s only slightly beats out that of Katz’s, I prefer the sit down deli style of Langer’s.

  3. Daniel
    August 11, 2009 at 9:23 am #

    I have a few point of contention with this Pastrami Showdown article on Dig Lounge.

    The first is with inaccuracies in the review. The writer compares the quality of the skin on the pastrami from one restaurant to another. This doesn’t even make any sense. In all my beef eating life I have never seen beef with skin on it. That is because this ain’t no frickin’ chicken, and a cow’s skin is what we people call hide or leather. It doesn’t make it to the table, or the restaurant, but to a clothing store instead. So unless his jacket fell on his plate, I think the author is attempting to describe the outer part of the brisket with it’s glorious layer of fat.

    The second issue I have is with the choice of breads. Quite frankly rye bread is the only respectable choice to be made at delis. Sure there have been exceptions to the rule of an onion bun for an octogenarian or a challah roll for a preschooler but seriously get with the program. What kind of self respecting food reviewer are you? You’re not doing anyone a favour with your special orders and pedestrian palate. I don’t want to know how Daniel Bolud’s burger tastes when served without the foie gras on two crisp pieces of iceberg because you’re on the atkins diet and don’t want to eat it the normal way. Your entire job as a food reviewer is to shut up and eat, at which point you are allowed to talk as much as you want. This is particularly true of the deli world. Looking at the pictures of your sandwiches, not only was it not appetizing, nor authentic, but the look of that sourdough bread almost kicked in my gag reflex. You had turned great pillars of the pastrami world into the next Subway special of the month. Either review the meat in sandwich form on rye or without bread next time. What you have done is blasphemy.

    I am reminded of a time when I was a young boy (no more than 8) eating at Wilensky’s in Montreal. Wilensky’s is famous for their “special”, a glorious combination of salami and bologna hot pressed between a bun with mustard. As a kid I detested mustard, and the thought of it made me sick. I kindly asked the gentleman behind the counter if he would make me a special without mustard. “Without mustard?” he replied. “Son put your hands up on the counter he said”. So I put my hands on the counter, at which point he picked up a chefs knife and said to me: “If you ever ask for no mustard again I will cut your hands off”. Needless to say I would never attempt to augment my order there again, and I still go back to this day. My point is, I was a child and you are a man. Man up and do it the proper way…

  4. Matt Mitchell
    August 11, 2009 at 10:02 am #

    What I meant by skin was the outer edges of the pastrami. Maybe my description could have been a little more specific to the outer edges of the brisket, but if you thought I really meant the cow hide, then maybe you are blinded with anger and rage over the rye comment. I gave a huge disclaimer in my review that I didn’t like rye bread. I don’t think there are any food laws specific to the use of sourdough on pastrami, specifically speaking to the bible anyway. Thanks for all your constructive criticism though.

  5. Matt Mitchell
    August 11, 2009 at 11:19 am #

    FYI, foie gras does not belong on a burger. If you want to preach about the purity of a sandwich, stick to your beliefs.

  6. Steve L
    August 11, 2009 at 12:00 pm #

    I side heavily with Angela on this one, Katz’s is much better. The Pastrami is cut right there on the counter, pickles are better…the list goes on and on. Tangent – Katz’s liverwurst sandwich is unreal, Langers does not serve one.

    The pastrami sandwich at Langers with the cream cheese sounds weird but is close to the best sandwich of any kind i’ve had in LA.

    You’re the best Matty!!

  7. August 11, 2009 at 5:49 pm #

    Matt, thoguth your entry was great, and a very good matchup of two great delis. I haven’t had Katz’s, but I do know that Langer’s pastrami is absolutely delicious. One of the most delicious things on the planet, in fact.

  8. Daniel
    August 11, 2009 at 6:29 pm #

    Listen chief,

    At no point in my comments did I argue that foie gras belongs on a burger. That is a topic for another discussion entirely. Maybe if you were a legitimate foodie and knew anything about the food world, you would know that Boulud was famous for putting foie gras IN his burger, which kick started the gourmet burger craze of the past few years. Clearly you missed the point entirely and should work on your reading comprehension skills. So, let me make my point abundantly clear. You not only copped out by having those wonderful establishments serve their fantastic meat on two slices of crap, but you did a dis-service to the global food scene as a whole. Nobody cares whether or not you “like rye”, just sack up and eat the damn sandwich the way it was intended to be eaten. You essentially just reviewed fried chicken after removing all the skin because you find it “icky”. Way to go.

  9. August 11, 2009 at 10:19 pm #

    Another great pastrami place for those of you in Portland:


  10. August 15, 2009 at 9:22 pm #

    Sorry Matt. I’m afraid I will have to side with Daniel and Steve L on this one. If I had never experienced Katz’s, I might have happily braved Echo Park each and every time I had a pastrami craving to get to Langer’s, but it really is the poor man’s Katz’s. Setting aside my personal view that pastrami, rye, and mustard are the holy trinity, not to be trifled with, simply grabbing an unadorned slice of the unctuous meat from Katz’s, no bread, pickle, condiment, and certainly no cheating with support from cheese and cole slaw, proves that the East Coast takes this one hands-down.

  11. Greg
    March 6, 2010 at 5:02 pm #

    Matt – you seem to not understand what an affront it is to deli-lovers everywhere that you are eating Pastrami on *SOURDOUGH*. It really ruins the credibility of your review. Sorry.

    (Another way to put this – anyone who actually gives a damn about whether Katz’s is better than Langer’s will be eating their Pastrami on Rye, which is why you subbing in Sourdough renders this article sort of useless in general.)

    That being said Langer’s >>> Katz’s and I have lived in both LA and NYC for years, and love pastrami more than life itself.


  12. Andy
    August 23, 2011 at 4:12 pm #

    I couldn’t agree more with Daniel and Greg. Why even bother writing a deli based article if you don’t like rye? It would be like writing reviewing tradish Mexican cuisine but instead of nomming tortillas, you get your shit in pita. BLASPHEME!

    Also this article is somewhat racist towards Latinos.

    “Langer’s is surrounded by Hispanic shops, a run down park, and people trying to sell you illegal stuff.”

    Boohoo, suck it up “The Man”!

    in other news… I agree that Langers is da best.

  13. Andy
    August 23, 2011 at 4:13 pm #

    that submit accidentally, mind the typos please*

  14. Matt Mitchell
    August 23, 2011 at 4:18 pm #

    I’ve since returned and had it with rye bread, and Langers still wins. So get over the no rye bread issue. I never had any idea of how crazy people were for Pastrami, in a town that serves pastrami on everything from a crunchy French roll to a towering burger with chili and hot links.

    My article is in no way racist. I’m not a tourist, but in fact born and raised in LA, I know this city well. I’ve simply stated the ambiance of the neighborhood; It’s surrounded by stores selling items catering to Hispanics, there are people selling illegal DVDs on the street, I was offered a fake drivers license by someone, and the park has seen better days. Between the gangs, the drugs, and the garbage left behind by everyone.


  1. Save The Deli » Blog Archive » East Coast VS West Coast Pastrami Showdown on DigLounge - August 11, 2009

    [...] now the DigLounge has weighed in, with a long article titled East Coast VS West Coast Pastrami Showdown . It basically pits Langer’s vs. [...]